Mental Training Overview

There are a series of basic mental skills that the athlete has to learn. This is the foundation upon which all mental development is built. As such, make sure you do this correctly. Here is the blueprint:

  • Mental skills should be acquired one at a time, and learned at their own pace. Don’t rush their development.
  • Learn the basic skills in a quiet, stress-free environment, away from as many distractions as possible. It must be accessible (for repeated sessions) and relaxing.
  • Each basic mental skill takes approximately 8 weeks to learn, based on a frequency of 3 to 5 sessions per week, each lasting 15 to 30 minutes long.
  • The basic mental skills to learn should be prioritized based upon the goals set according to assessments, self-review, discussions between you and your coach, mentors or peers, and meets the demands of your sport. You should have all of the skills built into your mental repertoire, but emphasis should be assigned according to what your personal needs are.
  • The basic mental skills (in recommended order of development) are:
    • Relaxation – The ability to reduce one’s level of excitation or anxiety or personal energy level or activation (whatever is concerning you); such that, one can focus on task performance.
    • Positive Self-Talk – The ability to channel one’s thoughts along constructive and motivating patterns through internal personal monologues.
    • Energizing – The ability to raise one’s level of energy and activation to perform optimally.
    • Visualization – The use of guided imagery to refine technique, prepare for matches and opponents, plus develop contingency plans.
    • Concentration – The ability to focus your attention on a single activity.
  • Similarly, Suinn’s program proposes Stress Management (part of Relaxation), Positive Thought Control and Self-Regulation (part of Positive Self-Talk), Mental Rehearsal (part of Visualization) and Energy Control (better definition for Energizing).
  • Mental skill development is progressive. Once learned, you use these skills to develop and learn new skills. For instance, visualization can be used to rehearse technique, positive self-talk can be used to manage mistakes and relaxation can put you into a receptive frame of mind for visualization.
  • Due to progressive nature of these basic mental skills, once learned, they must be practiced and maintained continuously.
  • As the competitive season draws closer, develop mental skills for sport specific situations. Initially, these skills should be put into play during team practices, then at low-level “friendly” competitions, and finally moved into use during heavier, more intense competitions.
  • Over the season, develop and refine your focus plan. A focus plan is a written guide that contains the pre-competition and competition strategies which helps the athlete concentrate on his or her activities during the whole competition day. Include everything from what to eat at breakfast, to how to respond to a critical equipment failure.